Growing up in a devout Christian family in Jakarta, Mrs Rosita Ezra Goldstein would help her mother prepare feasts for gatherings of the church community.
Today, the 47-year-old housewife continues to whip up sumptuous meals, but for a different congregation.
Her Brooklyn-born husband, Mr Harvey Goldstein, is Jewish, and she converted to Judaism more than 10 years ago when her eldest son had his Bar Mitzvah - a Jewish coming-of-age ritual for boys at the age of 13.
Based in Singapore since 2006, Mrs Goldstein and her husband have been hosting meals for the Jewish community here. They have four children aged 12 to 22.
Mrs Goldstein has catered for up to 100 people, where it took her a week to prepare and cook myriad dishes.
One of the highlights from her repertoire is challah bread, which is traditionally eaten for meals on Shabbat (Judaism's day of rest and seventh day of the week) and major Jewish holidays.
Challah is usually braided, each one with three long "ropes" of dough. Two challah loaves are usually made and eaten together, as the six lengths of dough symbolise the six days of the week preceding Shabbat.
Mrs Goldstein says: "When we braid the challah, it symbolises bringing the six days together to create unity and harmony in our lives."
For Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, the challah is shaped into a circle and generally stuffed with sweet ingredients such as raisins, marzipan and/or dried fruit.
She adds: "The sweet version symbolises hope for a year of sweetness. The round shape is to usher in a year of health and blessings with no end."
Other ingredients such as chocolate chips and dates can also be added to the dough.
Good challah, says Mrs Goldstein, should be rich and sweet and have an eggy flavour.
"It is almost like brioche but with a less cake-like consistency."
Her baking skills, which she picked up from her mother, have been honed since she was 10, when she made marble, butter and fruit cakes for her neighbour, who offered to pay for the cakes.
Now, she bakes everything from Christmas cookies to a stunning pavlova studded with fresh fruit.
She has also released a cookbook titled My Secret Recipes ($50) - a compilation of traditional Jewish recipes for dishes such as Moroccan chicken; Jewish New Year rice, studded with pomegranate, pistachios and pine nuts; and baked whole salmon.
All proceeds from the sales of the book go to the United Hebrew Congregation.
Her 12-year-old daughter Stephanie has also inherited her baking talent. The girl can bake brownies, cakes and chocolate chip cookies.
"She will tell me not to go into the kitchen because I'll bother her," says Mrs Goldstein with a laugh.
"She will say, don't use my eggs and butter, I'm baking tonight."
Mr Goldstein, who does not cook, lavishes praise on his wife: "She does beautiful satay, chicken and turkey dishes, as well as beef Wellington.
"Her spectacular culinary dishes are not available elsewhere in Singapore and have a touch of nostalgic home cooking that is an important part of our local Jewish community."
- 320ml lukewarm water
- 2 Tbs sugar
- 11/2 Tbs active dry yeast
- 1kg bread flour
- 1/2 cup honey
- 4 large eggs
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil or melted butter
- 2 tsp salt 1 Tbs sesame seeds
FOR EGG WASH
- 1 egg
- 2 tsp water
- A pinch of salt
1. In a large bowl, mix the water and sugar. Mix the yeast into the water and leave for about 10 minutes till it turns foamy.
2. Add the flour, honey, eggs, oil and salt.
3. Using an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, knead the mixture until you get a smooth and pliable dough. Add small amounts of flour if necessary, to ensure that the dough does not stick to the sides of the bowl.
4. Cover the dough with plastic wrap. Leave it to rest in a dark, warm room for about one hour, until it doubles in size.
5. Sprinkle a clean work surface with flour. Punch down the dough in the bowl and roll it out onto your work surface.
6. Divide the dough into six equal pieces and roll each portion into a long rope - about 4cm in diameter.
7. Take three of the long dough portions and place them side by side. Pinch the three ends together and braid the dough. At the end of the braid, tuck the remaining dough under the loaf so that it does not stick out.
8. Repeat with the other three dough portions.
9. Line a baking pan with grease-proof paper and place the braided dough on top. Cover with a tea towel and let the dough rest for 30 minutes. While the dough rests, pre-heat the oven to 180 deg C.
10. In a small bowl, beat the egg, water and salt. Brush both loaves with the egg wash. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top.
11. Bake the bread for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Slice and eat with honey or on its own.
Makes 2 loaves
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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